Understanding and Coping with Changes in Body Appearance During Blood Cancer Treatment (2023)


Dealing with blood cancer and its treatment can be an emotionally and physically challenging journey. One aspect that many individuals find particularly daunting is the impact on their body image. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the various dimensions of body image during blood cancer treatment, shedding light on the changes, emotional responses, and effective coping mechanisms.

What is Body Image?

Body image is a multifaceted concept encompassing how individuals perceive themselves. It involves feelings about one's appearance, self-identity, and how others perceive them. When undergoing blood cancer treatment, the physical changes experienced can significantly influence body image, requiring a period of adjustment and understanding.

Blood Cancer Treatment and Changes to Your Body

Changes to the Way You Look

Blood cancer treatment may manifest in various changes to physical appearance, including:

  • Hair Loss: Affecting scalp, body hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
  • Skin Changes: Such as rashes, dryness, redness, and spots.
  • Weight Changes: Either loss or gain.
  • Lymphoedema: Characterized by swelling.
  • Medical Devices: Such as Hickman® line or PICC line.

Changes to the Way Your Body Works

Blood cancer treatment can also impact the functioning of the body, leading to:

  • Brain Fog
  • Fertility Problems
  • Sexual Function Changes
  • Nerve Damage
  • Mobility and Strength Changes
  • Fatigue

Perspectives from Individuals with Blood Cancer

Understanding how others have coped with these changes provides valuable insights:

  • "I learnt to see how strong I was, even if I looked weaker than before."
  • "I’ve found a new identity now, and having blood cancer is a part of that."
  • "There will be hard moments, but they will pass."

Emotions You Might Have

Various emotions, including grief, anger, detachment, and low self-esteem, are common responses to changes in body appearance during blood cancer treatment. Acknowledging and addressing these emotions is a crucial step in the coping process.

How Side Effects Can Impact Your Identity

The link between side effects and one's sense of identity is explored, emphasizing the normalcy of anchoring identity to appearance and the importance of recognizing and valuing personal resilience.

Strategies to Feel Better About Your Body

Practical tips to enhance self-esteem and acceptance during blood cancer treatment include:

  • Self-Compassion: Being gentle and kind to oneself.
  • Engaging in Activities: Rediscovering hobbies and activities that bring joy.
  • Mind-Body Connection: Reconnecting with the body through yoga, exercise, massage, or mindfulness.
  • Wardrobe Empowerment: Experimenting with new clothing styles, makeup, or hairstyles.

Coping with Others’ Reactions

Concerns about others' reactions, particularly from friends and family, are addressed, emphasizing open communication and seeking support when needed.

Social Anxiety and Body Image

Low self-esteem due to physical changes can lead to social anxiety. Practical strategies, including gradual exposure and compassionate self-talk, are discussed to mitigate these anxieties.

Seeking Further Help

Acknowledging the emotional impact of side effects, the article encourages seeking support when needed, whether through hospital teams, support services, or therapy.


Coping with changes in body appearance during blood cancer treatment is a personal journey. This comprehensive guide aims to provide support, understanding, and practical strategies for individuals navigating this challenging terrain. Remember, you are not alone, and seeking help is a sign of strength.


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